"Bella Donna had the formula for success: a singer from huge band, a top-notch producer, and a who's who of musicians": Bella Donna by Stevie Nicks

Featuring stellar duets with Tom Petty and Don Henley, Bella Donna established Stevie Nicks as a star in her own right, away from the Fleetwood Mac soap opera

Stevie Nicks - Bella Donna cover art
(Image: © Modern/Atco)

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Stevie Nicks - Bella Donna

Stevie Nicks - Bella Donna cover art

(Image credit: Modern/Atco)

Bella Donna
Kind of Woman
Stop Draggin' My Heart Around
Think About It
After the Glitter Fades
Edge of Seventeen
How Still My Love
Leather and Lace (with Don Henley)
Outside the Rain
The Highwayman

While at her wispy and waif-like peak, Stevie Nicks took time out from fronting Fleetwood Mac to make this solo record, made with Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench and Nicks' two closet friends, Lori Perry and Sharon Celani. “We were like Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills And Nash, living in this great house and making music,” Nicks told Classic Rock. “It was one of those real rock’n’roll experiences that you can never forget." 

The feeling and camaraderie came through on the title track’s moody, ribbon-like reverie, the top-down West Coast pop of Think About It, the Nashville twang of After The Glitter Fades, and Leather And Lace, a chart-topping tender-but-tough romantic duet with the Eagles’ Don Henley (Nicks originally wrote it for Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter). 

The two monster hits that made Bella Donna a juggernaut arrived late in the sessions. And one almost didn’t make the album. Nicks had convinced Tom Petty to write her a song. He came up with Insider, but after they recorded it together, Petty liked it so much he decided he didn’t want to give it away. Nicks understood. Out of what Petty called “terrible guilt”, he played her a few cast-offs from the album he was making, Hard Promises, and she jumped at Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around

Equally as important was Edge Of Seventeen. The evocative title came from a misheard comment. Nicks had asked Petty’s then-wife Jane when they met, and she replied: “At the age of Seventeen.” 

“Jane had a southern accent, and I heard ‘edge’,” said Nicks. “I wrote the title down. And the song was written right after John Lennon died. A week later, my dear uncle John died. My cousin and I were with him when he passed. Between John Lennon and my uncle, the song came out of that."

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Other albums released in July 1981

  • 4 - Foreigner
  • Signals, Calls, and Marches - Mission of Burma
  • You Want It You Got It - Bryan Adams
  • Pleasant Dreams - The Ramones
  • KooKoo - Debbie Harry
  • Escape - Journey
  • Blue and Gray - Poco
  • Dreamtime - Tom Verlaine
  • El Loco - ZZ Top
  • Girls to Chat and Boys to Bounce - Foghat
  • Marauder - Blackfoot
  • Night of the Demon - Demon
  • Precious Time - Pat Benatar
  • Time - Electric Light Orchestra
  • The Visitor - Mick Fleetwood
  • High 'N' Dry - Def Leppard


What they said...

"Stevie Nicks' solo career was off to an impressive, if overdue, start with Bella Donna, which left no doubt that she could function quite well without the input of her colleagues in Fleetwood Mac. The album yielded a number of hits that seemed omnipresent in the '80s, including the moving Leather and Lace (which unites Nicks with Don Henley), the poetic Edge of Seventeen, and her rootsy duet with Tom Petty, Stop Draggin' My Heart Around. (AllMusic)

"The chemistry between Nicks' air-headedness and Fleetwood Mac's blues roots sets off a spark that sells millions of records. Bella Donna succeeds through the same sort of friction. The disparity between Stevie Nicks' rock & roll toughness and her literary ingenuousness leaves an enticing mystery: how can anyone so hip also be so incredibly silly?" (Rolling Stone)

"In the eyes of Stateside fans, Stevie Nicks is on a par with Kate Bush. She's swirling butterfly draped in layers of mystique and romance. Musically you've got folk and country strains, woven between Nicks' famed harmonies and the texturised West Coast sound-mix. Tom Petty and Springsteen's pianist Roy Bittan are buried in here somewhere but it's really just what you'd expect - a Fleetwood Mac album." (Smash Hits)


What you said...

Bjørn Skauge: Embark on a 42-minute journey through the realms of dad-rock, subtly infused with Americana and country vibes, all hailing from the musical landscape of 1981 – a pivotal moment marking the dawn of a new era in music. At the tender age of six during that year, this album had eluded my ears until now, even as a self-professed non-enthusiast of Fleetwood Mac. This uncharted musical territory presents a fresh experience.

Though the consensus among fellow listeners points to 3-4 standout tracks recognised as hits, I find myself yet to be captivated by these, with the exception of the notably cool Edge of Seventeen. Nevertheless, what captivates me is the striking modernity and timelessness of the production; it resonates as if it could seamlessly belong to the present musical landscape.

In summary, this newfound musical acquaintance holds promise, and I intend to revisit the aforementioned three tracks in the hope that they may eventually weave their way into my musical affections.

Evan Sanders: I bought this album and listened to it many times after it came out. Listening to it now, I enjoy how well it stands up as a showcase for Stevie Nicks as a solo artist. Of course, the hit songs Stop Draggin' My Heart Around, After The Glitter Fades, Edge of Seventeen, and Leather and Lace are classic rock staples. The rest of the songs are enjoyable as well, with maybe only one forgettable b-side. At a point when Fleetwood Mac had pivoted more towards Lindsay Buckingham's experimentation, Stevie showed that the SoCal sound was still strong. 8/10

Gregory Johnson: So I just gave it a listen. Great sound, good music. But, probably would only listen to the hits again. Although the non-hit tracks are ok, nothing that needs to be revisited. Most of the tracks were copyrighted from the mid-70s. I'm guessing these were songs Stevie had written but didn't have room on a Fleetwood Mac album since there are multiple great songwriters in the band. Not that these are reject tracks, but maybe too personal to her or not right for the band at the time.

Mike Canoe: I bought Bella Donna when it came out based on the strength of the still amazing Edge of Seventeen but for a teenager more into Moving Pictures and High 'N' Dry, the whole album was entirely too mellow and didn't get much play.

Listening to it now some forty years later, I like it a lot more but I am surprised how melancholy and downbeat the whole album is. It's a very grown up album full of songs of regret and resignation. In other words, perfect for grown-up Mike.

Of Stevie Nicks' multitude of excellent musicians, Waddy Wachtel is the MVP - which is saying something given that most of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers are on one song or another. His playing on the terrific title track perfectly complements Nicks' lyrics about a burnt out superstar. Of course, the Heartbreakers, especially Mike Campbell, do a great job backing Nicks on my other new favourite, Outside the Rain.

And Nicks herself is in great form. She definitely has what I would call a distinctive voice more than a typically good voice but she's great at conveying emotion even though I usually can't understand a darn thing she's saying.

A whole album of Nicks' tunes was much better than I thought it would be. I just had to grow into it.

Uli Hassinger: In my eyes Stevie Nicks was the brightest star in the Fleetwood Mac cosmos. Her angelic appearance and beautiful voice always let her shine more than all the others. One of the best female voices in rock music. Therefore the step into a solo project wasn't kind of a risk especially which this bunch of excellent musicians gathered.

The Tom Petty number is my favourite track. Two matching charismatic singers accompanied by one of the coolest hammond organs ever. One of the best collaborations of two superstars. The duet with Don Henley, one of the best male voices ever, comes close.

I also love her mellow country rock ballads like Think About It and After The Glitter Fades even if you can hear that both songs were written in the mid 70s, which isn't a bad thing.

Edge Of Seventeen is the most 80s song with a great guitar riff that could have been on a Toto album. The great Highwayman represents the sentimental and melancholic end of the album. Not a bad song on Bella Donna. 9/10 from me.

Greg Schwepe: I’ve written before about “Musical Peer Pressure” (“conform or be cast out?” Well, not that much pressure). Your circle of friends in high school all listened to the same stuff and you didn’t want to get razzed or called out if they found you listening to something out of the norm. Again, this was good natured ribbing, not hazing!

When wanting to get a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, instead of buying the vinyl like I did with everything else, I’m pretty sure I bought the pre-recorded cassette so there was less chance that my friends would find it. Nope, they wouldn’t see that masterpiece if they happened to be leafing through my record crate looking for one of my normal rock and hard rock albums. By the way, it is an International Law that you must own a copy of Rumours in some format at some time in your life.

Fast forward a couple years later in college with a dorm full of new friends, new musical tastes, a 10 watt college radio station, and tons more albums to borrow and listen to. Your musical palette got expanded. Stuff you might have veered from before now became the norm and stuff you may have hidden before is now one of your new favorite new bands.

Hmmm… wait, what am I writing here? Oh, a review for Stevie Nicks’ debut solo album Bella Donna, get to it! This time around, instead of buying the cassette so it wouldn’t be seen, I got the vinyl for all to see. Her solo album seemed to have a bit of a buzz even before it was released, since it was from someone from a major act and the players on the album were cream of the crop. I bought it just so I could impress and show my newfound friends how I’ve learned to check out new artists and styles. Kind of a "Musical Show-off" now. “So, I just bought the new Stevie Nicks album, do you have it?” And to be honest there was also part of me that liked that angelic looking Stevie on the front and back cover and might have bought it for that. Don’t judge me.

And while I did like stuff that was quieter too, I never really took to artists who might have been Stevie’s contemporaries in this vibe. I listened to the leadoff title track Bella Donna, then Kind of Woman and thought “Dang, that’s kind of slow...maybe too slow"

But Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers save side one for me. The building intro with the guitars of Petty and Mike Campbell and then you have one of the iconic duets of the 80s with Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around. Don Henley, we’ll get to you on side two. Side one ends with Think About It and the country-tinged After The Glitter Fades, which almost trips my Too Much Pedal Steel meter but stops just short.

If you want hypnotic chugging guitar riffs, the one created in Edge Of Seventeen is certainly right up there in the pantheon of hypnotic chugging guitar riffs. That riff and the term “white winged dove” create the “Stevie Nicks Brand” right then and there. That song alone said “Well, if I never go back to Fleetwood Mac, pretty sure I can stand on my own two feet.”

Duet #2 comes in the form of Stevie and Don Henley. Again, more heavyweight talent on Leather And Lace. Singers from two of the biggest group of the 70s!

Other side two songs include How Still My Love, Outside The Rain, and The Highwayman. More pensive songs that grow on you the more you listen. Took me a bit to really take to them.

Bella Donna had the formula for success; singer from huge band, top notch producer in Jimmy Iovine, and a who’s who of musicians. 8 out of 10 on this one for me. And when “The Wild Heart” came out two years later, I bought that one on vinyl too and hid it from no one!

Mark Herrington: The Album cover of Bella Donna was always a mystery to me. I could never understand why Stevie Nicks was holding a Cockatoo, and not a ‘White Winged Dove’ .

I bought this at the time in 1981 , on the strength of hearing Edge of Seventeen, with the aforementioned bird central to undoubtedly the best song on the album. I was expecting all great tracks, but, on listening, those were few and far between. I also found a whole album of her vocal style a little too much. I preferred her appearances in the mixed offerings of the Fleetwood Mac format.

This was one of those albums I ended up playing three or four tracks only, lifting the stylus intermittently. That soon became a chore, and it was relegated to the back of the record rack.

Revisiting it again hasn’t changed my perception, and its a middle range score from me. Now, however, at least I can Google that bird.

Matt Batten: I love this album. Bit country and western in places but still a superb record.

Bill Griffin: Though almost totally outside of my wheelhouse, I think this is a great album. Stevie has such a powerful and expressive voice. The duets with Tom and Don are incredible, especially Leather & Lace. Even the mellower tracks (most of the album) are excellent.

Gareth Moreton John Hayes: Any album that has Edge Of Seventeen on it, has definitely got something going for it

Philip Qvist: Yes, I know Stevie Nicks is like Marmite - you either love it, or hate it (for the record, I love Marmite) - but there is no denying the impact that she has made on the music scene, not to mention the gossip columns.

She is also one of my favourite female singer-songwriters, so I'm delighted that Bella Donna has finally come up for review, because it is a bloody good album. I also reckon that this remains her best ever solo record - even if there is a country and western feel to some of the songs.

So what has it got going for it?

The backing musicians, for a start; with top session men like Waddy Wachtel and Russ Kunkel, plus the likes of Roy Bittan, Davey Johnstone, Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers band, plus various members from the Eagles. All of whom did a fine job arranging Stevie's ideas.

Then there are the songs, such as Stop Draggin' My Heart Around (one of my favourite duets), Leather And Lace (another great duet, this time with Don Henley), Edge Of Seventeen (a Stevie Nicks masterpiece) and the title track. The other tracks are none too shabby either, while Blue Lamp should have been included on the original album.

While her voice is always going to be distinctive, the album does not sound like Fleetwood Mac with different musicians - this is definitely a Stevie Nicks solo album.

It is also worth mentioning that Bella Donna is also the start of a long relationship between Stevie and her two backing singers, Lori Petty and Sharon Celani, which is still going strong. In terms of songwriting, singing, production and musicianship, this album ticks all the right boxes. 8.5 going on 9 for me.

Eric Walker: Great album. Prefer this over a number of Fleetwood Mac albums.

Peter Thomas Webb: Bella Donna is one of those albums that sat in my collection for years, never demanding obsessive replay but always standing up well the odd time I pulled it out. Listening back, I notice a vast difference in impact between the standout tracks – Stop Draggin' My Heart Around, Edge of Seventeen, and Leather And Lace – and the rest of the material, which never catches fire.

Part of that impression stems from the music, which has a competent LA studio feel typical of the period. (I could tell before looking it up that guitarist Waddy Wachtel and drummer Russ Kunkel were involved). For all of Fleetwood Mac's inner soap opera, the band lit a spark under its members, including Stevie Nicks, which allowed the whole to transcend its musical parts. For me, that transcendent quality is what Bella Donna is missing. Rating: 6/10.

Chris Elliott: A good but not great album. Four obvious stand out tracks - the rest are decent and that's not a bad strike rate. Dated a bit in places - but to its great credit it's not a solo Fleetwood Mac album.

John Davidson: Not one of my go to artists tbh. I always preferred Christine McVie's contributions to Fleetwood Mac and found the whole Buckingham/Nicks saga tiresome to say the least. However, it gets off to a decent start with the title track which has an unusual guitar tone which supports Nick's voice very well.

The collaboration with Tom Petty and Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers is the next highlight, with Edge Of Seventeen providing the other hit. The rest of the album sounds decent enough but drifts too close to California soft country for my taste buds to truly relish.

Pleasant enough but not anything I'll be adding to my rotation. 6/10.

Ciarán McGreal: You can tell a lot about an album by the session players listed in the credits; Wachtel, Kunkel, Glaub, Bittan, Tench, Johnstone. And throw Don Henley and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on top of that. Duck Dunn even plays bass on Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around. Brilliant album.


Final score: 7.85 (87 votes cast, total score 683)

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